Statutory inquiry into alleged child abuse case gets go-ahead

The Government is set to press ahead with a statutory inquiry into a case which sparked a string of arrests across Munster earlier this month over alleged child sex abuse.

As many as 12 children of varying ages are alleged to have been abused in a case which is already the subject of a Garda investigation.

The Government has now decided to conduct a separate statutory inquiry into the matter, including into whether State services such as those working in the areas of child welfare and protection could have acted earlier or if any warning signs were missed.

Another area that could be covered by the inquiry is any possible element of alleged grooming of children.

It’s understood that the inquiry will be chaired by special rapporteur on child protection, Geoffrey Shannon, and that the inquiry team will also include child welfare consultant, Suzanne Phelan, and Chief Supt Pádraig Kennedy, the former head of the Garda specialist Child Protection, Domestic Violence and Human Exploitation Unit in Harcourt St.

Earlier this month 11 people were arrested across Munster as part of an ongoing Garda investigation into suspected child abuse.

It is understood the inquiry team has been tasked with providing a report into the case as quickly as possible, without prejudicing in any way the separate Garda investigation.

The report will be furnished to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, and the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, both of whom are understood to have been instrumental in pushing for a statutory inquiry.

Speaking at University College Cork earlier this month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was unsure at that stage about an inquiry into the case, with the agencies concerned saying they had done everything in accordance with procedures.

However, given the seriousness of the allegations and the scale of what is alleged, there has been growing pressure to trigger a separate inquiry. It’s understood those efforts have been stepped up in recent days.

Last night, Ms Zappone said she and Mr Flanagan had been briefed “extensively” on this case.

“We have agreed that while there is no evidence of any serious mishandling of the case by either Tusla or An Garda Síochána, due to the complexity of the current case it would be good practice to arrange for a short, focused independent ‘Serious Incident’ review of the actions to date.

“The independent ‘Serious Incident’ review will examine the management of the case including the inter-agency activity and co-operation which primarily involved Tusla and An Garda Síochána.

“The primary purpose of the review is to ensure that any learning which may arise is captured at the earliest possible opportunity and informs future work,” she said.

Her department said that Mr Shannon will assist with drafting the terms of reference for the inquiry and that it hoped to complete the review as soon as possible after terms of reference have been agreed.

A report will be issued to the ministers and then the Cabinet will be given an update at that stage.

“Publication of the review will be considered in due course and will be subject to legal advice,” it said.


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